Revised: 2 Jan. 2010
It’s an article of faith with me that all religions worship the same God. I’d like to look at two religions to test this assertion: Christianity and Hinduism.
According to Christianity, the God we commonly worship has three facets and thus is called “the Trinity.” Those three facets are the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Here is St. Matthew’s reference to them.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (1)
Hinduism also worships a Trinity. What in Hinduism is the equivalent of the Christian Trinity?
Many might respond: “Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.” No, this Trimurthy is equivalent to the creative, preservative and transformative potentiality of the divine energy or Shakti. Brahma creates; Vishnu preserves; and Shiva transforms.
Although I have not carried out the research that might allow me to make this statement with total confidence, I believe that some day Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva will be found to be other names for the cosmic powers called by Hindus and Buddhists the gunas (rajas, sattwa, and thamas), which also create, preserve, and transform. If I am right, then the Trimurthy is not equivalent to the Christian Trinity.
Let’s take a closer look at the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
These words are just names, but what do they point to? The Father, King of kings, or Lord God Almighty, is described in the Old Testament as a stillness, a void, from which everything originated and into which everything resolves itself.
He (He is not a “He”) is described in the New Testament as our Home in which are many mansions. Do we recognize this void, this origin and home of all? In Hinduism, it is called Brahman, Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Awareness-Bliss).
Who in Hinduism is the Son? The Son in Christianity is the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in a field (kshetra?), the great fish among fish, the mustard seed that grows into a great tree, the measure of leaven that leavens the whole loaf.
Jesus said that the Son and the Father are one. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. Yet all along the Father is greater.
Moreover, no one can know the Son but the Father and the Father but the Son. Do we recognize this Son in Hinduism? If I am correct, it is the Atman, the offspring of Brahman, the immortal Self, Brahman-in-the-individual.
The Atman is in Brahman and yet Brahman is in us (in our heart-center or hridayam). Yet Brahman is greater than the Atman. Moreover, no one can know the Atman but Brahman and no one can know Brahman but the Atman.
Another way of saying this is that the Atman is the “individualized” Self and Brahman is the “universal” Self. It is only by knowing the individualized Self first that the universal Self can be found. This is the foundation of the universal spiritual teachings like “Know thyself” and “The Kingdom of Heaven [i.e, the Father] is within.”
As Jesus taught, when true disciples find the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field, they sell all they have and purchase it.
Translated into Hindu terms, when true disciples see the Atman in the first experience of enlightenment, often called “spiritual awakening,” they divest themselves of all their worldly desires (“sell what we have”) and contemplate only the Atman, until the Atman becomes Brahman in sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi (permanent enlightenment). (2)
Having attained Brahman in permanent enlightenment, they have “purchased” the Pearl; they have made It their own.
Therefore, Hindus call these two Divine Entities Brahman and Atman; Christians call them Father and Son. But they are the same Divine Person no matter what name we use for Them.
What about the third Divine Entity in the Christian Trinity — the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost? Who is the Holy Spirit in Hinduism? If you did not know by now, I suspect that you may be able to guess.
“Spiritus” in Latin means “breath.” The word is used to signify that which moves across the waters of God’s Being and calls all creation into existence. While the Father is stillness, the Holy Spirit is motion.
Jesus referred to this relationship. He was asked what password would be used so that disciples could recognize each other and he said to tell them “a movement and a rest.” (3) The Holy Spirit is movement; the Father is rest. Sages in ancient times used the metaphor of a universal male and female to distinguish between these two levels of reality, which have no gender.
The Holy Spirit was with the Father since the beginning of Time, before ever there was an Earth. She is called by many names in the Bible: the Glory of God in Exodus, Wisdom in Proverbs, the voice in the wilderness in Isaiah, the noise of many waters in Ezekiel, the sound in the silence, the Word of God, the Amen, the true and faithful witness of creation, the law (as in Jesus’ phrase “the law and the prophets”), and so on.
In all those names, the Holy Spirit is movement (voice, noise, sound, word). God is a wilderness because He is prior to the natural laws of this phenomenal world; no law can bind him. He is stillness and silence.
Looking now at Hinduism, what was with Brahman since before Time? What moved like breath and creation came into being, where Brahman, who willed the movement, is stillness and silence itself? What is the fabric of creation, of phenomenal nature? Hindus will probably reply that Shakti is.
Shakti is the Divine Mother of creation, Prakriti (Procreatrix in Latin), nature, the phenomenal or relative world. Shakti is movement, sound, energy, Aum, the Sabda Brahman, the Nada Brahman. Shakti is the natural law, the dharma, the true Guru. Shakti is the name of the Holy Spirit in Hinduism.
The Hindu dharma is the Christian law. The Hindu Sabda Brahman is the Christian Word of God. The Hindu Aum is the Christian Amen. Prakrithi is Procreatrix. Shakti (energy) is the Holy Spirit (breath). The Divine Mother and the Holy Spirit are one.
What are we left with? The Hindu Trinity of Brahman, Atman, and Shakti is no different than the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And it is on this basis that we can say that Hindus and Christians worship one and the same God and that their religions are fundamentally one.
Stripped of all the different rituals, these two great world religions are seen to be two roads to the same destination.
What then is the secret of the Trinity as far as evolving human beings are concerned? It is this. Enlightenment proceeds by levels. The first level we are destined to know is the Light within our own hearts (the Son or Atman); the second level is the Light within all of creation (the Holy Spirit, the Divine Mother); and the third level is the Light beyond creation (the Father, Brahman).
This does not exhaust the levels of enlightenment by any means. God’s Being is Infinite. But I think that the Trinity is the part of Reality that we are destined to know at our present stage of evolution.
Whether one worships the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Brahman, Atman, and Shakti, the One God knows it is He Himself (or She Herself, or It, as you wish) that is being worshipped.
I’m filled with awe and gratitude that I’ve been permitted to utter these words. I’m aware that, had I said them in the sixteenth century, I might be burned at the stake. I bow at the altar of the freedom to worship as we please.
(1) Matthew 28: 18-19.
(2) A higher experience than simple Brahmajnana or nirvikalpa samadhi. See http://www.angelfire.com/space2/light11/fdl/e1.html#e119 as well as sections before and after.
(3) Gospel According to Thomas, p.29.